Monday, July 16, 2018

Taking Manda for a Walk

         Taking Manda for a Walk
                            By Valerie L. Egar

         I take Manda for a walk every day, even when it rains.
If she dawdles, I let her know, it’s time to go, NOW. After all, I’ve waited all day. She is very obedient and runs to get my leash.
“OK, Boo Boo,” she says, jingling my leash, “I’m ready.” She calls me ‘Boo Boo’ when she feels all lovey-dovey and ‘Biscuit Breath,’ when she teases me, but most of the time she calls me ‘Sky.’ When she calls me ‘Skylar,’ I know I’m in trouble. She never calls me by my full name, which is Klondike’s Countess Skylar of Cave Creek, but I never call her by her full name, Amanda Nicole Dawson, either. I call her  ‘Manda’ which sounds like this: “Ow ooooow oof.”
Once we are out the door, I pull her towards the park. It’s not a playground park, it’s a nature park with hiking trails. I always sniff the air and lead her to the trail that smells best. Sometimes I pick the one that circles the pond because I like seeing geese scuttle into the water when they see me coming. Other times we walk through the woods. She listens to the birds and I watch squirrels.
My favorite trail is the one cut through a meadow. The air smells sweet and today butterflies flutter among the flowers that grow there— daisies, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, thistle. I find a box turtle and gently pick it up to take home.

   “No, Sky, leave her here.”
            But I love turtles! I shake my head no.
            “Put her down, Sky.”
            The turtle is closed up tight in her shell. She could live in the backyard and be my friend. Best of all, I found her myself! I shake my head no.
            “Skylar, put the turtle down, now.”
            Reluctantly, I put her on the grass. Manda moves her off the trail, near where I found her. We watch as the turtle slowly emerges from her shell and makes her way into the meadow. I am not happy.
            Manda pats my head. “She lives here, Sky. She’s happy here.”
            I pretend not to hear and pull Manda along. Sometimes I imagine I’m pulling a sled and that’s what I do— head down, cold Arctic wind blowing on my face, I swiftly glide over the icy tundra.
            “Whoa, Sky, slow up!”
            Oh. Right. Manda is running to keep up. I slow my pace.
            Coming towards us, I see Wally, a Dalmatian, taking his person for a stroll. Wally always brags about sitting on the fire truck in every parade, so I puff out my chest, raise my tail high in the air and march as though I’m leading the parade. I can’t look behind me, but I hope Manda is marching, too.
            Wally nods and I nod back.  When they turn the corner, I relax.
            Manda picks up a stick and offers it to me. “Want it?”
            She should know better. Huskies don’t play with sticks, but she might need it because the grass is getting higher on each side as I’m leading Manda through the African plains. It’s awfully hot and dangerous, too. Lions. Tigers. I stay close to protect her, and when a huge ostrich— well, wild turkey— flies right in front of us, we both jump.

            Whew. That was a close one.
            When we arrive home, Manda gives me a biscuit, a big one that tastes like peanut butter. “Sorry about the turtle, Boo Boo,” she says and I forgive her because she’s Manda and I love her very much.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published July 15, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, July 9, 2018

The Boy Who Loved a Cactus

                                         The Boy Who Loved A Cactus
                                              By Valerie L. Egar

            The boy spotted it in a greenhouse full of plants. It was in a small pot, in the corner, with a few other cacti. No one, including the greenhouse owners, paid the tiny cactus much attention. It didn’t need frequent watering like the other plants. It didn’t grow quickly and hadn’t needed repotting.

Most people who visited the greenhouse didn’t like the cactus. Its sharp spines pricked fingers. Because it had a red bulbous top on a green stalk, most people thought it looked ugly. It didn’t bloom like a gardenia or an orchid. It was tiny. Most people passed it by without a thought. Not the boy.
People teased the boy about his red hair, calling him “Red Top,” but here was a plant with a red top. The boy was small for his age. The cactus was small, too. He like that the cactus had spines. It meant the cactus could defend itself and he admired that.
“Oh, a cactus,” said the sales clerk, wrinkling her nose. “It’s a dollar.” The boy fished four quarters from his pocket and carried the cactus home.
 The boy put the cactus on the windowsill in his bedroom. Every morning, he said good morning to the little plant. Before going to sleep, he wished it good night.  Once a week, he gave it a teaspoon of water.
Occasionally, he took the cactus for walk. He showed the cactus the moon and the river that flowed near his house. “No rivers where you were born,” he told the cactus. He took the cactus to see a forest. “These are trees,” he told the tiny plant.  “No trees in the desert where you lived.”

The cactus grew and the boy became a young man. He had repotted the cactus several times, but because it grew slowly, it still fit on the windowsill. Though he gave up taking it for walks, he still talked to it. “Wish me luck, I have a math test tomorrow,” he might say. Or, “I’m glad I have you, but I’m lonely.”
One day, after school, the boy brought a girl home to visit. She was pretty and the boy liked her. When she saw the cactus, she laughed. “That’s the ugliest plant I ever saw.” The boy blushed. Because he wanted to please her, he put the cactus in the closet.
It was dark inside the closet. The cactus balanced on top of a box and waited. The shoes reeked. When the girl left, the boy was so happy she said she would like to see him again, he forgot the cactus until the next morning. When he remembered, he absentmindedly put it back on the windowsill.
Every time the girl visited, the boy put the cactus in the closet. The cactus grew pale, but the boy didn’t notice. He was too busy trying to please the girl. He bought opera tickets, even though he didn’t like opera. He dressed in fancy clothes, even though he preferred comfortable ones. One day the girl brought him a present— a plant with big red flowers. It didn’t fit on the windowsill. It required special fertilizer. It wilted easily, but its leaves yellowed if he gave it a drop too much water. The plant was a lot of work.
Meanwhile, the cactus continued to wither. The boy didn’t talk to it anymore and its time in the closet grew longer and longer.
“You still have this ugly thing?” the girl said one day when she opened the closet. “It’s almost dead. I’m throwing it out.”
The boy looked at the cactus. He looked at the girl and knew he’d made a mistake. In trying to please her, he pretended to like things he didn’t like and given up things he loved, like the little cactus. He gave the difficult flowering plant back to her and said good-by.

The boy put the cactus back on the windowsill and gave it a teaspoon of water. “I am sorry,” he said over and over, “please forgive me,” as the cactus recovered. “The next girl will need to love you, too.”
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author. 
Published July 8, 2018, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, July 2, 2018

Princess Adeline and the Talent Contest

                       Princess Adeline and the Talent Contest
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            When vain Princess Adeline saw the sign announcing the talent contest, she decided to enter. The first thing she did was list all the things she needed to do to make sure she won the trophy.
1.     Bribe judges.
2.     Make noise while other contestants are on stage.
3.     Put skunk back stage after my act.
The Royal Steward looked over her shoulder. “I see you plan on winning fair and square.”
“I plan on winning,” said the Princess. “I don’t care how.”
The Steward laughed. “Not going to work this time. You can’t bribe the judges.”
“That’s what you think! I have plenty of money right here.”
“No, no, no,” answered the Steward. “The audience is going to decide who wins by clapping.”
“The people of the Kingdom?”
 The Steward nodded. “Yes, the ones who paint horns on your pictures and lob mud balls at your carriage.”
Princess Adeline frowned.  “Then I’ll just have to work on my talent. I’m going to win!”
The next day the Princess started singing lessons. “Oh, what a beautiful voice you have, Princess,” declared the maestro. “If the dogs would stop howling, I know you could do even better.”

The Princess decided she preferred dancing.
“Never, in the history of dance, has anyone moved quite like you,” said the ballet mistress. “People will remember your dancing for years.”
Though the Princess thought her dance was quite original, she had too many bruises to repeat it. Perhaps juggling would do?
“Of course throwing one ball in the air is juggling,” the court jester told her.  “Now all you have to do is learn to catch it.”
The Princess considered animal acts. Her cat refused to do tricks. 

The royal hounds ran when they saw her coming. She spent an entire day with the royal cows, but they didn’t learn a thing.
“Where’s Rafe?” the Princess yelled. “I need him now!”
Rafe, a peddler who gave up his successful business selling coconuts as “magic eggs” when people found out they didn’t work, was the Minister of Princess Popularity. Though the work was difficult, he managed to slightly improve the princess’ image with the public by making certain they liked him even less. 
            Rafe appeared in a snap. “I want to win the talent contest and I don’t care how,” the Princess told him.
            Rafe smiled. “Not caring how is the key. I guarantee you’ll win. Just wear something royal and don’t forget your crown.”
            “Shouldn’t I wear a disguise?” asked the princess. “I still don’t know why, but people don’t like me very much.”
            “Come as you are,” said Rafe.  “and be yourself.  I’ll be in disguise, since they like me even less. But we’ll win, I promise.”
            On the day of the contest, Princess Adeline found Rafe disguised with a long white beard, dressed in a top hat and tails. He pointed to a sign that said, “Magician  McGee and his Beautiful Assistant Princess Adeline.”
            “But I don’t know a thing about magic,” complained the princess.
            “Just do as I say,” said Rafe.
            Princess Adeline wasn’t sure, but when their act was announced, she thought she heard booing.
            “For my first trick,” said Rafe, “I am going turn my lovely assistant into a donkey.” He waved his magic wand and the princess disappeared.  A donkey  with a crown on its head, stood in her place, braying.  The crowd laughed and clapped.
Rafe waved his wand again and the donkey disappeared. “Where’s the princess?” asked Rafe.
            High above their heads, Princess Adeline sat on a trapeze. “Get me down from here!” she screeched. 
Rafe waved his wand again and the Princess reappeared at his side.
“Just you wait until we get back to the castle!” whispered Princess Adeline.
            “And I’ll make her disappear again,” said Rafe, waving his wand.
            The crowd stamped their feet, screaming. “Yay!”
            “Where is she now?” Rafe asked.
He opened the curtain.  Princess Adeline was in a bathtub, dripping wet, her crown crooked.
            “Bravo!” the crowd yelled, clapping loudly.
            “Dungeon!” the princess hissed under her breath, but Rafe laughed. The applause was deafening and Princess Adeline won the contest and the trophy she wanted.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published July 1, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, June 25, 2018

Theka's Choice

                                                              Theka’s Choice
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a young girl, Theka, lived in a village at the edge of a dark forest.  She was an orphan, but managed to make her way.  She swept the sidewalk in front of the bakery every morning and the baker gave her a sweet roll. She earned a few coins weeding a widow’s garden. When the monsoons came, a rich merchant allowed her to sleep in his warehouse. Everyone in the village knew Theka and gave her what they could spare.
            Theka spent her day wandering.  She drank water from a clean spring at the edge of the forest and ate berries. Because she was lonely, she talked to the trees and flowers.
            “Hello, great tree. How are you today? Did you like the rain last night?”
            “Little flower, does the butterfly tickle when it touches you?”
            One day she climbed high into a tree and amused herself by singing.  For hours, she closed her eyes and sang a beautiful song. Opening her eyes, she was surprised. Birds of every size and color perched on the branches of the nearby trees. A tiger, a wolf, and a bear rested underneath the trees with deer, rabbits and a boar. 

So enchanted were the animals, they did not fear each other. They bowed their heads to Theka and walked back into the forest.
            Theka couldn’t wait to sing her song again. The next day, she climbed the tree, closed her eyes and once again sang the melody that called the animals. Once again, the birds and forest animals came to listen in peace. After that, Theka sang to them everyday.
            A hunter spied Theka talking to the trees one day and stayed hidden to watch her. He saw her climb a tree, heard her sing and saw the forest animals gather. He was disturbed by what he saw, but said nothing.
            Not long after, a tiger killed a farmer’s calf.  The village

was upset.  A tiger!  Tigers were dangerous. Who knew what else a tiger might do? Everyone gathered for a meeting.
“It’s no wonder!” the hunter yelled. He pointed at Theka. “She sings and calls wild animals out of the forest.  This is her fault!”
            When questioned, Theka was truthful. Yes, she sang a song. Yes, the animals came, but they were peaceful.  No, no one taught her the song. No, she didn’t understand why her song called the animals, it just happened that way.
            She heard a chorus of voices: “Her singing is dangerous!”  “Who knows where this kind of power leads?” “Unnatural, especially for a girl!” “She’s bewitched!”
            They ordered Theka to stop singing.
           “And if I don’t?” Theka dreaded giving up her songs. Singing was the only thing she had. 
            She looked at the stern faces, even those who had been kind to her, and knew the answer. They gave her a day to think about it.
            Theka spent the night high in her tree, looking at the stars and thinking. “What should I do, tree?” she asked and thought she heard an answer.
            Early in the morning, as the sun’s first rays peeked over the horizon, Theka walked into the forest. She knew she would miss her village, but she also knew she had a special gift people in her village didn’t understand.  She was a little bit frightened about how she would provide for herself, but also excited by her new adventure.
            The people in the village never saw Theka again. Some whispered a tiger ate her and others guessed she starved, but the few who ventured into the forest swore they heard singing high in the trees. One or two reported glimpsing her and after many years, more and more claimed to see her, sometimes high in a tree, other times, running on a forest path.  Hunters blamed her for misdirecting their arrows and calling the forest animals they hunted to safety.
If you walk in the forest and sit quietly with eyes that see and ears that hear, she will sing to you, too.   
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Copyright  2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published April 12, 2017, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).